Want to share the joy of gardening with the children in your life? Take a look at these strategies from gardening experts that make time in the garden interesting and fun.
Each year, the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show brings thousands of visitors to the Fairgrounds Nashville for an early taste of Spring. This year (March 2 – 5, 2017), the theme is “Gardening For the Future,” and the lecture schedule is heavy on ways to make gardening fun and meaningful for future gardeners – our kids. I asked some of the lecturers to share their ideas.
“Most kids love to get their fingers in the dirt and to dig holes,” gardening or not,” says Todd Breyer, who is one of the show organizers. “They are naturally drawn and fascinated by unusual shapes, flower colors, insects, birds and butterflies in the garden.”
- Troy Marden, a Middle Tennessee gardener, garden designer, author and garden show host suggests planting “giant” flowers and vegetables: “ ‘Russian Mammoth’ sunflowers that can grow 12 feet tall with blooms more than a foot across. ‘Yardlong’ green beans that will climb a trellis or an arbor, produce bean pods upwards of 3 feet long, and are perfectly edible. ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ pumpkin, the variety that currently holds the world and Canadian records with pumpkins that can weigh nearly a ton, and ‘Carolina Cross’ watermelons that can weigh in excess of 200 pounds! Make a family friendly competition out of it and see who can grow the biggest produce or the largest flowers.”
- Set up a butterfly hatchery using an old aquarium or terrarium, Troy suggests. “Harvest black swallowtail caterpillars from fennel or dill growing in the garden or monarch butterfly larva from milkweed, keep them well fed with fresh food using the same host plants you find them on (caterpillars are very picky) and out of any direct sunlight (you don’t want to cook them!) and watch the amazing transformations from caterpillar to chrysalis to adult butterfly before releasing them back into the garden. There are many online resources with very specific instructions for success.”
- Todd Breyer suggests adding plants with unusual colors or forms, variegation, fuzzy texture, or funny names: Elephant ears, Bat-face Cuphea, Lambs Ears, ‘Bengal Tiger’ Canna, Persian Shield, Red-pod Okra, Bulls Blood Beet, Purple Dragon Carrot, Red Noodle Bean (24” long), Japanese Cucumber (24” long), Gold Potatoes, striped ‘Green Zebra’ Tomatoes, Moonvine and others.
- Help them see those pollinators – the butterflies, bees and wasps – at work, Todd Breyer suggests. “Talk to them about what they do and why it is important.”
- Introduce them to plants that move or that are carnivorous! Todd recommends Pitcher Plants and Venus Fly Traps. “Mimosa pudica can be grown from seed, and the leaves will fold up right before your eyes when you brush a finger across them. Shrankia (Sensitive Briar) is a native plant that does the same thing.”
- Todd advises talking about plants that may be dangerous, “Things like Bed of Nails plat, or honey locust with giant thorns. “Teach that some plants are sources for medicine, or might simply be toxic, so never eat anything without an adult to assist.”
- Introduce kids to water gardening: “Waterlilies in a pod, tomato plants grown hydroponically,” says Todd. “Or simply start an avocado pit in a glass of water suspended by toothpicks.”
- Grow a “pizza garden” – all the ingredients you might use for a pizza – basil, onion, oregano, parsley, tomato, eggplant, garlic, etc. “You can even arrange it in the shape of a pizza with each cluster of plants representing a triangular slice,” Todd says.
Any of these ideas would delight a budding gardener. “I will challenge the audience to remember and visualize the awe and excitement we experienced as children to the natural world,” says Sizwe Herring, the founder of the 25-year-old nonprofit, EarthMatters Tennessee, who will present a lecture on permaculture gardening on March 3. “Reuniting this relationship will strengthen the Nashville fair food movement.”
My story about gardening with kids and the Nashville Lawn & Garden Show is coming up in Sunday’s (Feb. 26) Portfolio section of The Tennessean.